Practicing independence: Indian documentary film and filmmakers

2017-02-27T01:20:55Z (GMT) by Kishore, Shweta
In India, “independent” is a term that signifies a body of politically oppositional documentary films that first appeared in 1975 during the Constitutional Emergency, a period of repressive exercise of state power. Choosing to locate their practice outside Films Division, the public service documentary production and distribution unit, the practitioners claimed independence not only in industrial terms but also politically from the itineraries of state propaganda. Forty years later in the post-economic liberalisation phase, the adversarial notion of independence is blurred as filmmakers are often awarded by the state and work in partnership with institutions that include non-government organisations, who are close allies of the Indian state. Moreover, expanding from independence defined in terms of a representational focus on historical crisis, independent filmmakers equally explore private domains, artistic subject matter and embrace poetic and critical visual grammars. This thesis defines independence in its contemporary form as a mode of artisanal practice that manoeuvres and adapts its methods, practices and norms to produce cultural, historical and substantive social meanings. The theorisations and responses of documentary filmmakers to regularised industrial structures, political institutions and social relations and discourse in a postcolonial nation transitioning towards neoliberal socio-economic systems offer us an expanded consideration of independent filmmaking. Through an on-site examination of film practice, films and the cultural policy environment, I argue that independent filmmaking is a tactical practice, constituted at three key sites: production, circulation and social relationships. Making use of Michel de Certeau’s theory of “minor practice,” I contend that at each of the three sites alternative methods of organisation – ruse, tactical media and interdependence – demonstrate how independent filmmakers rework their surrounding organisational and political rationalities in pursuit of their artistic goals.